WASHINGTON -- Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said Tuesday that she'll back the Democratic-authored Senate Finance Committee plan to revamp America's health care system, breaking with her party to give the effort a dab of the bipartisan look that the White House and Democratic leaders eagerly sought.
"When history calls, history calls," she said.
Democrats had courted Snowe vigorously. She's expected to be the only one of the committee's 10 Republican to back the measure when the panel votes later Tuesday.
The 62-year-old third term senator explained her position as a vote "with reservations," because while she likes some parts of the proposal and dislikes others, she wants to move the legislative process forward.
"My vote today is my vote today. It doesn't forecast what my vote might be tomorrow," she said, implicitly warning that she may oppose the measure that Democrats ultimately take to the Senate floor. It will be a blend of the Finance Committee and the Health Committee's versions.
Snowe has a history of independence; in February, she was one of three congressional Republicans to side with Democrats in voting for President Barack Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus bill.
Tuesday she praised the Finance Committee effort, saying that lawmakers have "gone further than ever before in attempting to blaze a pathway to affordability for all Americans that has eluded us for decades if not centuries."
She said the status quo in health care coverage doesn't work. But, she said, making that system change is akin to "turning the Titanic around before it hits an iceberg."
However, there's a difference: "The captain did not know there was an iceberg," she said. "We do."
Snowe listed provisions that she likes: Creating insurance exchanges, or marketplaces, where people can shop for coverage. Barring insurers from denying coverage because of someone's health status. And helping lower-income people afford policies.
But Snowe also warned that she shares fellow Republicans' concerns "about vast governmental bureaucracies and governmental intrusion."
The Senate Health Committee's version includes a government-run health insurance system; the Finance measure does not.
"There are many miles to go in this legislative journey," said Snowe.
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